Using your iPhone, Android smartphone as an Oyster card in London

Using your iPhone, Android smartphone as an Oyster card in London

No longer is an Oyster Card needed to ride the London Underground – instead, commuters can simply tap their contactless credit card or now even their payment-enabled smartphone at the barriers to hop on board.

That's thanks to the launch of Apple Pay in Australia for iPhone users and Android NFC payment apps for both Commonwealth Bank and Westpac customers, and as the phone behaves just like a credit card, it's your ticket to the Tube.

Here's what you'll need to get started, and how you can easily keep track of your trips to assist with company expense claims or indeed your own travel budget.

Smartphone as an Oyster card: what you'll need

As the idea suggests, Apple users need a modern iPhone – either the 6, 6 Plus, 6s or 6s Plus – configured with Apple Pay (or a linked Apple Watch), and an American Express card issued directly by American Express Australia.

Read: How to set up Apple Pay on your iPhone

That includes cards like the American Express Qantas Premium card, the Platinum Charge card and the new $0 American Express Essential Card, although AMEX cards issued by ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB or Westpac aren't yet supported.

Instead, CBA credit card customers toting any NFC-capable Android smartphone can fire up the 'CommBank' app and register their MasterCard or American Express card for contactless payments, as can Westpac customers with certain Samsung phones.

These include the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, S5, S5 Mini, S4, Note 5, Note 4 Edge, Note 4, Note 3 and Alpha models, although not Android phones from other manufacturers like HTC and Sony.

Customers of all other banks or with other smartphone types may instead be able to obtain a 'pay tag' to enable smartphone contactless payments – for more information, contact your financial institution.

Smartphone as an Oyster card: how, where it works

Unlike in Australia where you'll need an Opal, Myki or Go Card to tap and go on public transport, Transport for London (TfL) accepts fare payments from not just its own Oyster cards but also contactless credit cards on most services.

That includes the Tube/Underground, London Overground, TfL Rail, Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and most National Rail services in London, along with the city's buses, trams and the 'Emirates Air Line' cable car.

Before you approach the ticketing barriers or hop on board, get your phone ready to make a payment – for Apple users, it's as simple as double-clicking on the iPhone's 'home' button while the phone is locked:

Android users running the Commonwealth Bank or Westpac apps will instead need to unlock their phone the normal way, open and sign-in to their bank's app and look for the 'tap and pay' option.

Then, hold your phone over the yellow card reader, just as you would a traditional Oyster card, and your fare will automatically be billed to your nominated credit card.

Smartphone as an Oyster card: fares, travel history

Using your smartphone to pay for your journey costs the same as a regular Oyster card pay-as-you-go fare, with the same daily and weekly fare caps that benefit Oyster users also offered to smartphone-paying commuters and which are applied automatically.

Just be sure to use the same payment card via your preferred app for every journey, otherwise the system can't calculate how many times you've travelled during your London visit and you'll continue to be charged for each trip.

Also remember that your bank's usual overseas transaction fees continue to apply – just as they do when using a credit card for any other overseas purchase – but as these fees are normally percentage-based it's no different to buying an Oyster card top-up the old way.

Only one charge will appear on your credit card statement each day which includes all of the travel you've done during that period, and by registering your card on the Transport for London website, you can easily keep tabs on your costs.

That's handy if you'll be submitting an expense report on your return or your employer needs a payment receipt that shows a record of where you've been and when, and if there are any mistakes, requesting a fare review online is easily done.

So the next time you're in London, do not pass a ticket vending machine, do not collect an Oyster card: a smartphone in-hand is all you need to get around the city.

Also read: Apple Pay launches in Australia: what you need to know

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!


  • jrfsp


    14 Dec, 2015 03:25 pm

    Qantas cash is also a good method, rather than a credit card which may charge for overseas transactions. A number of cities around the world allow for this method of payment (Chicago for example). Not sure if any in Australia do yet.....maybe by 2020

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  • Adam


    14 Dec, 2015 10:01 pm

    I think you'll find you need to use an actual credit card, not a debit mastercard or visa debit card - I attempted to use my regular visa debit whilst in London last year and had no luck with their contactless system, so had to load up the Oyster card and use chip-and-pin on the machine.

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  • Di Ingelse


    16 Dec, 2015 08:24 pm

    I was in London four weeks ago and my Velocity pre-paid Visa travel card didn't work. 

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  • fxdxdy


    14 Dec, 2015 03:27 pm

    I don't think you can make credit card payments using CBA Tap & Pay NFC via their app. I think they only support the MasterCard that is linked to your transaction account

    See the 'Important Information' section on this page:

    Or am I wrong (or is that page out of date)? 

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  • Chris Chamberlin


    14 Dec, 2015 03:57 pm

    Hi fxdxdy, that used to be the case although CBA expanded the app to allow for MasterCard and American Express contactless (credit card) payments too in mid-November:

    Looks like that page you've shared is just in need of an update!

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  • fxdxdy


    14 Dec, 2015 04:01 pm


    I guess it is a case of the right hand no knowing what the left hand is doing!

    Thanks Chris! 

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  • Miles Rochford


    16 Dec, 2015 10:55 am

    It's worth noting that prepaid Oyster card holders do not get weekly capping - that's a special feature only available with contactless payment (so it's quite common to see Londoners avoiding Oyster prepaid to save money).

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  • Looking


    20 Dec, 2015 11:07 pm

    "Ride the underground"? Try "travel on the underground"...this is London.

    What happens when there is no signal, as often is the case on the tube, does the oyster barrier reader connect with the card?

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  • Chris Chamberlin


    21 Dec, 2015 10:44 am

    Thanks Looking but we're happy with our wording.

    Re: connectivity, the Oyster barrier is connected to the Internet and the credit card networks so can verify your payment even if your phone itself has no reception.

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22 Jul, 2019 05:52 am


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